I am in the middle of a skirmish with my old furniture. The hostilities began when the man cave's furniture arrived, and the old blue sofa was moved to a space that was empty and echoing: the living room.
The furniture was unbelievably comfortable, if a bit worn, and I was delighted to have a place to sit and read. As days went by, I tried to get a feel for the space.
I am a well known "pillow ho," and I riffled through my stash, looking for bright, cheery fabrics. Naturally I found several. I spent an afternoon trying to make the room cozy.
I dug through the storage room and found a few ornate tables. I had bought them a decade ago in a dusty antique shop. My friend Hannah had found them, and she'd insisted that every room needed a bit of gilt. She was a spry, elderly lady, the kind who grows geraniums from seed and has antiques with a pedigree. Hannah died six years ago. As I dusted the tables, she came back to me. I could hear her tinkling laughter and slow, Tennessee drawl.
Next, I added a new-ish (but unwise) purchase: a blue and white striped rug that had fared poorly on the screened porch. After it dried, I hauled it to the living room. Except for the rug, everything was old and beloved . . . but the items had never been together in the same room.
I stepped back. How did it look?
The disparate pieces clashed violently, tooth and fang.
The furniture took sides--formal vs. the light, airy stuff.
It was war.
The gilt table shot furious glances at the rug, and the rug stuck out its tongue at the lamps. The dining room furniture said, "Game on."
Decades ago, a decorating style wasn't so pigeonholed. Homes were (dare I say it?) more forgiving, more livable. Or perhaps I wasn't paying attention. Now, the eye has been trained to pick out the wrongness of a room. We only have to open a catalog to see what a room expects of us. We are assaulted by images of how we should live, no matter if it breaks the spirit and pocketbook. (Not to mention the body--it can be hazardous to move furniture!) I was talking to my friend Allison, and I said that I'm happy if the room is clean and not too cluttered. She said she heard me, that she was all over it, too.
The homeowner must never surrender to a room that whines and begs for the latest trend. She must develop a tough hide and ignore Aunt Sister's comments. (So what if your room is a textbook case of what not to do?) The homeowner must be patient, never making excuses. It's her life, her house, her room. She must look for a common thread, one that binds the wildly different treasures, and if she can't find it, she must pray for the strength to make hard choices--and to lift heavy furniture.
My room seems like a battleground, all of the pieces throwing daggers and spit bombs. What to do. In my hands, color refuses to be a unifying force. Maybe it needs a brave dash of pink? A splash of grounding green? A pile of books on the floor? Perhaps a theme could add harmony, just as long as it isn't arbitrary, just as long as it is organic and filled with me-ness (books, dogs, nature, food). I've got to make this work, because I cannot throw everything out and start over. I wouldn't want to.
But my patience only goes so far.
Room, put away your knives and malice. Talk to me. Where are you going? Can we meet half-way? What do you want to be, Room? Please don't say formal, but if you must, tell me what to do. (And tell me if you'll pay for it?)
When the flying fur settles, maybe I'll call a ceasefire. Maybe the room will magically work. If not, surely I will find a place for the warmongers. What remains should evoke comfort, happiness, and peace. The floral pillows remind me of a summer in England. I like the height and shape of the tables. The size of the rug is fine because it carves a space within a larger space. In fact, I can see several rugs, all mismatched yet compatible. Let's see, what else?
The wicker chair will be moved to the porch, and the potting shed has put dibs on the little gray-green desk.
I look beyond the room, at the magical light. It changes from minute to minute. And look how the trees are framed by the bay window. Note to self: hang bird feeders.
In today's world, decorating a room has never been easier--or harder. I like to compare it to gardening. You plant, weed, deadhead, transplant, prune, yank up, plant again, fret, and sow seeds.
In the meantime, you wait. You go off and live your life, and don't forget to dream.